The Prisoner of Zenda

by Anthony Hope Hawkins

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Rudolf V, The True King

Rudolf V of Ruritania is the king-to-be of the imaginary nation of Ruritania. At the start of the novel, he is awaiting coronation and is engaged to be married, but on the eve of the ceremony to crown him king, he is drugged and kidnapped to usurp his throne. Rudolf appears relatively infrequently in the novel, as the plot follows his capture and the efforts of his supporters to safely retrieve him from captivity. Upon his return, he unknowingly marries a woman in love with another.

Duke Michael

The disgruntled Duke is the younger half-brother of the king-to-be; unhappy with his inferior role in Ruritania's hierarchy, Michael elects to remove his brother from the throne. He is the mastermind behind a plot to overthrow the king, intending to prevent his coronation and steal the throne for himself. His complex plot is foiled by the presence of Rassendyll, whose eerily similar looks allow him to assume the throne in the true king’s absence, preventing Michael from achieving his villainous ambitions. These ambitions lead the Duke to his death; betrayed by a henchman, Michael dies in fruitless obscurity, known only as the villain. 

Antoinette de Mauban

Antoinette is Duke Michael’s unhappy mistress. She knows of the plot to overthrow the king but does not wish it to happen; she stirs a plot of her own to prevent Michael from being crowned king. It is her advice that leads Rassendyll and the king’s advisors to uncover his location.

Count Rupert of Hentzau

Rupert is a handsome young count and accomplice in the plot to overthrow the king. He is deceptive and cares for no authority; thus, his motives are suspect throughout the story. Ultimately, Rupert escapes the plot unscathed and leaves the country, not returning to Ruritania until the sequel.

Colonels Sapt and Fritz von Tarlenheim

The colonels are loyal supporters and friends of the king, who were with him the night before his disappearance. When he goes missing, they do everything in their power to ensure he is returned safe and becomes king. Moreover, they convince Rassendyll to put his life on pause in the name of Ruritania and play the role of king. Alongside the false king, they seek to uncover and foil the plot against Rudolf.

Rudolf Rassendyll

King Rudolph's cousin from England, Rudolf, comes to visit during the events, and his likeness to his cousin is uncanny. He is used as a copy of his cousin to receive the crown and ensure that the coronation can proceed. More commonly referred to as Rassendyll, the king’s cousin is a kind-hearted and gregarious fellow who falls into his new role with ease, though he feels uncomfortable about the deception. Despite having minimal ties to the king and the country, Rassendyll quickly embraces his role as the story’s hero and spearheads the effort to recover his cousin. Even after surviving an assault and an attempt on his life, Rassendyll holds fast to his virtues and rejects the Duke’s offers of money and power. However, Rassendyll is not sacrosanct, as he accidentally falls in love with the king's fiancée.

Princess Flavia

A kind and beautiful young woman betrothed to the king-to-be, Princes Flavia has the poor fortune of first encountering Rassendyll, a false king whom she unknowingly falls for, unaware that their affair is ultimately doomed. When the king returns from his ordeal and rightfully assumes his throne, Princess Flavia ends her affair with Rassendyll, for she must prioritize her duty over her feelings. She is heartbroken, however, and her tale ends unhappily.

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